Writing & its ways.

First- Year Composition Prepares Students for Academic Writing by: Tyler Branson

From reading the very first page I instantly thought about my experiences so far in my graduate courses with all my classmates as teachers. Normally when presenting or sharing work I usually get just a tad bit of butterflies. Not because I am questioning the work that I am presenting, because I always believe in whatever I am sharing with others, but the question is will others understand it the way that I am explaining it. On top of that in the front and in the back of my mind are the teachers in my class focusing on my sentence structure and grammar? If yes, I will overthink and feel that they are so distracted by that, they can’t even get to my story. The reason why this comes up in my head is because an English teacher will always let you know that they are in fact an English teacher, and almost can’t help themselves when it comes to automatically correcting with their eyes someone else work. Even if it isn’t asked of them. English teachers have become the honorary grammar police, and I don’t think that’s what they signed up for.. or did they?

I am actually very pleased that it was mentioned how teaching grammar and mechanics does not improve student writing. I know some people reading that line might be thinking that doesn’t even make sense! But honestly, that is how I always viewed it. I have to finally admit that I am not the best at grammar, my spelling can be a little shaky and there are many different grammar rules that are just a tad bit confusing, but I believe I can still write my ass off. Storytelling is my vice, I create stories in my head and am able to articulate them on to paper. In my opinion that is a good writer. Let me rephrase, that is one type of a good writer, because there are many different ways one can be a good writer, that just happens to be mine.

“The five-paragraph essay template becomes increasingly irrelevant because it doesn’t resemble anything about how writing looks in the real world or what different audiences expect in different reading contexts.” In all of my graduate classes so far (4) all of my professors in some way ask how or when did I begin to learn writing, and it always brings me back to learning the five-paragraph template style. If I can be totally transparent I am wondering now if the purpose in learning that, similar to math equations was solely for my studies during school. I am honestly trying to think of a time where I used this method in the real working world. A little background for context, I have worked in a hospital in administration, and I have worked in media as a program coordinator, I have done a ton of freelance work with event marketing and planning, and I have never, not once needed to use the five paragraph essay template. I guess you might assume writing email would require that, but funny enough people love emails to be quick and straight to the point.

Overall this piece was interesting regarding all of the things that should be taught and understood during first year writing, even though I believe the time of first year is situational considering everyone’s different learning timeline.

Reading is Not Essential to Writing Instruction by Julie Myatt Barger

“They should know this stuff before they get here.” Might be the biggest misconception between school and home. I understand this article is in regards to reading but that line can literally be applied to so much. There is such a disconnect with what should be taught at home, such as reading and what should be taught in school. I believe it should be not only taught at both home and school but it should also be practiced consistently at both home and school. “As teachers understandably grew fearful about losing their jobs because of low tests scores, they devoted class time to preparing students for tests rather than developing practices that would have helped students improve as readers and writers.” This topic is actually something that I am very passionate about. My current job is the Program Coordinator of Original Great Expectations which is a in school and after school program that teaches students how to manage themselves. This gives them resources and opportunities that they didn’t even realize was available to them, and apart of the reason they didn’t know it was available to them is because of the disconnect from school and home. The school is focused on test scores, the home is focused on preparing the young adults for the real world, and unfortunately in most homes parents are so consumed with managing their own life a lot of lessons are being missed or forgot about assuming these young kids are learning in school. Something as simple as how to fill out a job application, the basics of money, and how to send an email. I said all of that to say it doesn’t surprise me that it is lost in translation on to where and when should a student be taught or maintained how to read. However if a teacher is told their duty is to make sure the students pass those tests, then that is what they will do. I am lucky enough that I had several teachers who went above and beyond that and made sure we actually learned things that we can apply to our lives and not just how to pass a state test.

I want to leave my last bit of feedback with another line that jumped out at me. ” Composition scholars readily agree that students need to be taught how to write rather than merely be tasked with writing.” Kelly Gallagher, the high school English language arts teacher hit the nail on the head with her techniques on what teachers must do to ensure their students are actually learning how to read. This read might be one of my favorites because I am a strong advocate for teaching students, and non students how to think oppose to what to think.

Failure is Not an Option by Allison D. Carr

Reading this very sarcastic title I knew this would be about why failure is actually a good thing. I consider myself a creative, I throw and host events, I write books, and I am convinced my brain works differently than a lot of other people I know. If I had the mindset of failure scaring me I probably wouldn’t be in graduate school right now. With being a creative, failure is just a part of the process, it’s apart of trial and error. Some things will work and other things you’ll learn how to make it better next time. Of course without failure the wins won’t get the appreciation it deserves. I am basically flipping the title and being as optimistic as I should be, simply because failure is apart of life, yet it doesn’t have to be a negative part.

“To fail willingly in writing is to be empowered by the possibilities that emerge. It is to trust oneself and one’s ideas, a quality too rare in the age of hyper-achievement, in which the only progress that counts is progress that moves up.” For some reason while reading this I said to myself this should be the official definition of failure. Of course the actual definition is lack of success. Failure of course can be tied to literally any and everything, but because I am coming from a writers standpoint, failure within the writing world seems like the one of the most terrible things ever. I mean it can’t be erased, literally it’s in ink it can’t be erased. So I can see rereading your actual failure can be heartbreaking and a serious confidence killer.

I am also pleased with this piece in regards to showing all sides of failing, turning a negative into a positive is always the way I like to look at life, and making failure an option is no different here.

Envisioning possibilities: visualizing as enquiry in literacy studies by, Anna Smith, Matthew Hall and Nick Sousanis

In this read the best way for me to sum everything up would be, ” engaging spatially with image and text, in negotiating ideas and aesthetics, partners me with a powerful set of collaborators.” For me, the key word in that would be collaborators. Writing for myself is such an interesting thing to talk about because I always try to find the best tools to get my full story across. In the current novel I am writing I am using journal entries as a huge part of telling my stories. My style of writing is mostly geared towards young adult and adult so I never thought about using anything other than actual words. Although it isn’t my style I 100% believe that it is helpful for a writer to use such techniques. I am actually interesting in hearing what Hugo thought of this and what pieces he was able to pick from it! I have a feeling it is going to be something regarding his artistic view.

Rhetoric and Visualization

Although I’ve never technically taken a first year composition course (I tested out thanks to my high school AP Language and Composition class), I still found myself agreeing with many of the ideas presented in Bad Ideas About Writing about what the course should be. In his essay “First Year Composition Prepares Students for Academic Writing,” Tyler Branson argues that instead of spending one or two semesters correcting students’ grammar on strictly academic papers, first year composition teachers should prepare students to engage in civil discourse by promoting empathy, ethics, and compassion. Branson also highlights the importance of first year composition as a means to teach students to sift through various sources and recognize the ones that are compelling and reliable. 

To me, these are key elements of writing instruction, as they get to the core of why writing is important. Writing is a powerful tool that can be used to sway our beliefs and to inform us about the world we’re living in. If we don’t know how to analyze arguments in writing or to find gaps in logic or research, those who do know how to use rhetorical strategies can manipulate us. On the other hand, once we learn these strategies ourselves, we can both understand and create compelling arguments that influence others and bring about positive change in our society.

Julie Myatt Barger discusses a similar viewpoint in “Reading Is Not Essential to Writing Instruction.” She explains that a semester of first year composition can’t “remake students into writers” (46); instead, students should be taught to read deeply like writers do. They must be shown to comprehend not only the content of what they read, but also to recognize structure and rhetorical strategies. 

Based on my own experiences with studying rhetoric, I find that reading diverse texts is essential to understanding the discipline. In my high school AP Composition class, for example, we watched clips of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to study their use of ad hominem attacks, and we analyzed the pathos in Queen Elizabeth I’s “Speech to the Troops at Tilbury.” In my college rhetoric course, we studied the use of voice in James Watson and Francis Crick’s groundbreaking paper “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid,” and we examined the rhetorical devices in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” We read these texts not because we were about to go into battle or because we needed to learn more about DNA, but so that we could analyze them rhetorically and use them as models for crafting compelling arguments in our own writing. 

In “Failure Is Not an Option,” Allison D. Carr shifts the focus from the importance of reading to the importance of failing. She discusses how failure in writing is taboo thanks to historical biases against illiteracy and because of the prevalence of standardized testing (which, according to Barger, has also caused reading rhetorically to take a backseat to grammar and vocabulary). I imagine that anyone serious about writing would agree that failure is integral to the process; nobody creates a perfect final draft on their first try. Writers must take risks, make mistakes, and experiment in order to promote discovery. 

“Envisioning Possibilities: Visualising as Enquiry in Literary Studies” also demonstrates that taking risks and experimenting can lead to new discoveries in writing. The authors Anna Smith, Matthew Hall, and Nick Sousanis demonstrate that multimodal visualization techniques lead to new depths of discovery. Hall creates graphics inspired by his musical background to record the frequency and volume of his students’ interactions with each other and with technology, while Smith uses an interactive digital timeline to discover new patterns about her subjects’ writing processes. 

I’m neither a musician nor a computer programmer, so these research methods don’t really appeal to me. The general idea of integrating multimodality into research is intriguing, though, especially after reading about Sousanis’s use of comics in his research. He describes how drawing accurate scientific illustrations to accompany his written argument leads to new avenues of research, which in turn can lead to new discoveries and epiphanies. He writes that multimodal elements should not simply be used as “add-ons” or “decoration” to a written argument, but should instead be “integral” to the research process (7). 

I’ve always thought of research and writing as synonymous, but it makes sense that visualizing data and ideas in other, more multimodal ways would serve to expand and deepen one’s research. I imagine the opposite is also true; we can use our knowledge of writing to deepen our understanding of other disciplines, like art and music.

Blog #4: A gateway to Citizenship and Arriving at Meaning Through Multimodality.

 Bad Ideas About Writing edited by Cheryl Ball and Drew Lowe.  




                It feels as though forces in the universe aligned and timed this assigned reading exactly when I needed it; as I am currently struggling to create an atmosphere of meaningful learning in my own classroom. I attempting to create real life meaningful connections to literature that many students feel is outdated and useless.  I am attempting to breakaway from traditional robotic responses that students give in order to achieve ‘right answer’ since it has created a sense of apathy amongst students.

                They have been reading and responding to texts in a trained manner, without connected the text to “political and cultural context”.  Years and years of this type of training has made my attempts to foster critical thinking seem like a burden on students.  I am imposing on them something almost alien to them. They do not realize that critical thinking is a crucial aspect of being an informed and productive part of society. As the author states “It’s about modeling and practicing writing as an act of citizenship.”(Branson 21) The ability to take a text and connect it to real life events of the time period, whilst understanding the concept of history having a tendency to repeat itself makes literature timeless.  The purpose of being introduced to literature, at the basic level is storytelling but must transcend interpreting and understanding of the world around us.  The inferences and analysis made in literature and writing travel beyond the classroom and become life skills.

                Being introduced to literature and responding critically provides students the ability to decipher meaning in other texts they encounter, especially in political contexts.  Deep analysis of literature is a gateway of producing original thought based on evidence. It allows for reflection and comparing ideas, thoughts and beliefs that may differ from our own.  The author states “First-year writing also works like no other course to push students to explore the possibilities of language, to work with new and uncomfortable ideas and genres, and to analyze important issues and how they are argued in the public sphere.” (Branson 21) This is a skill acquired through repeated exposure and is essential for living in diverse world.

                We are living in a digital media age that is over saturated with information, neglecting to teach our students to critically think and analysis will create a society of individuals who are easily manipulated; especially in the realm of politics where rhetoric and double speak are common place. As educators we can not only teach them the mechanics of writing and a basic sense of literacy, but provide them will a portal into understanding the world around them in safe and productive settings. These experiences are often life changing for many students and afford them a perspective they otherwise would not have been exposed to. 

Envisioning possibilities: visualising as enquiry in literacy studies

Anna Smith, Matthew Hall and Nick Sousanis

I have been introduced to the concept of incorporating the use of visuals to increase understanding and literacy, but some modalities introduced in this article perplexed me. The idea that someone could interpret text through music notes was difficult for me to conceptualize. He states “I graphically represented the aural and physical interactions including the timing and direction of verbal interactions, environmental sounds, interactions with computers or devices and movement from one part of the computer lab to another – in addition to the linguistic interactions present in transcripts of the video recordings – as musical notation.” (5) Trying to comprehend Matt’s process in the use of taking things such as “pacing, volume, action, gestures and movement of interactions” (5) and transferring them into a visual representation that incorporated the use of music notations was mind bending.  This way of interpreting and synthesizing date was beyond my scope of understanding.  As I grappled with trying to understand how the use of the modality could provide meaning for everyone, I realized that those who did understand this modality have long been denied literacy in a sense. The traditional linear way of understanding had prohibited them from making meaningful connections.  

Just as my lack of knowledge in music created this deficit in understanding this modality, a lack of multimodalities creates the same deficit for those who thrive with the use of them.  Matt used an area of expertise to help me analyze and understand a completely different discipline. This requires ingenuity and tapping into a creative part of our brains that we sometimes neglect in the process of traditional learning.  It allows meaning to be created through untraditional connections that are deeply rooted in us as individuals.  The use of multimodality in literacy creates a space for our individual talents and areas of interest to be explored and expanded upon.  Multimodality interrupts the traditional rigidity of literacy that expects “one size fits all” meaning. It imposes that individuality is a crucial part of understanding and meaning making.

Empathy and The Practice of Citizenship

In my paper, I explore Tyler Branson’s idea that the first year writing class is a place to learn the “practice of citizenship” (20) as he suggests in his essay “First-year Composition Prepares Students for Academic Writing” and ask the question, “Can the practice of rhetoric alone lead to more compassionate civic discourse?”

Below is the link to my paper which draws on ideas from Branson’s essay, two additional essays from the book Bad Ideas About Writing, and Marshall B. Rosenberg’s model of Nonviolent Communication. In addition, I have also included the link to my prezi presentation which is based on the same.

Empathy and The Practice of Citizenship

Prezi Presentation of Empathy and The Practice of Citizenship

Works Cited

Ball, Cheryl E., and Drew M. Lowe, editors. Bad Ideas About Writing. Digital Publishing Institute, 2017.

Branson, Tyler. “First-Year Composition Prepares Students for Academic Writing.” Ball and Lowe, pp. 18-23.